Music lovers will have one less place to discover new music if the worst comes to pass, and internet radio pioneer Pandora shuts down as threatened. And that would be a damn shame for me, as I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful new artists and songs through the service.
For those who haven’t used the (free) site, Pandora basically works like this – you create a “station” by entering an artist or a song you like. The site, taking advantage of the Music Genome Project, streams random tracks that share similar qualities to your selection. As each song plays, you can issue a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”, and that further fine-tunes what you hear.
It’s a fantastic idea, and as I said I’ve found a lot of great stuff using it. But its existence is now threatened, thanks to a 2007 ruling from the U.S. Copyright Royalty Board. That ruling more than doubles by 2010 the royalties that internet-based radio stations must pay to stream music. The problem is that while a terrestrial radio station only plays one song at a time, internet radio can play multiple ones at the same time (in Pandora’s case, they can serve thousands of songs at any moment). Since most of these outlets are struggling for revenue as it is, the future of internet radio is very dark indeed.
Negotiations are underway to bring some sanity to the issue, but from reading the public comments by Pandora founder Tim Westergren I don’t hold out a lot of hope. It sounds more like a matter of when than if.
While Pandora would be far from the only casualty here, they would be one of the more notable ones. And with their demise, the music industry would have once again shot themselves in their already bullet-riddled foot. A truly innovative way for artists to get their music heard would be sealed off due to the short-sighted pursuit of the dollar.
I’m certainly not suggesting that Pandora be allowed to play songs for free, but my mind reels when I try to think of a good reason for allowing this potentially beneficial avenue for music promotion to die on the vine without finding some sort of mutually beneficial compromise. I guess the music industry feels that 100% of nothing is better than 1% of something.
Luckily there are still other viable alternatives for discovering and exploring music, like last.fm. But I have to think that even their future would be called into question at some point.
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